Opinion

Jack Shafer

Mike Daisey’s brief guide to answering difficult questions

Jack Shafer
Mar 20, 2012 20:18 UTC

Thanks to the “Retraction” episode of This American Life and his appearance at Georgetown University last night, we now know more than we ever wanted to about Mike Daisey’s damage control theories.

On the radio, Daisey tendered the non-apology apology. Yes, for his retracted episode, “Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory,” Daisey confessed that he had lied in the original broadcast about what he saw in China, whom he talked to there, when he talked to them, how many factories he visited, and so on. He also admitted that he lied to This American Life‘s editors in the fact-checking process. For a complete run.

Daisey has now acknowledged his lies, but has also attempted several defenses and obfuscations of them. On his blog last Friday, the day the scandal was broken, he stated that: “I stand by my work,” and “What I do is not journalism.” I leave it to the reader to figure what “I stand by my work” means when the work under discussion has been discredited. But the “not journalism” comment is very peculiar to make at this late stage because, as Craig Silverman points out, This American Life producer Brian Reed put Daisey on notice before the episode ran that they wanted it to be “totally, utterly unassailable by anyone who might hear it.”

“Utterly unassailable” strikes me as a laudable, if unreachable, goal for journalism. To the producer’s request, Daisey responded: “I totally get that.” So even if he doesn’t “do” journalism, he knew that he was being asked to “do” journalism on This American Life.

Daisey’s evasions and justifications have circled out wider in the last couple of days. Yesterday, he wrote in his blog that if you think that the story of his lies is bigger than the story of working conditions in China, then “something is wrong with your priorities.” He says this just one paragraph away from reiterating his apology to “anyone who felt betrayed” by his radio performance. “I stand by that apology,” he writes, before launching into a defense of making stories “subordinate to the truth.”

Busting Mr. Daisey

Jack Shafer
Mar 16, 2012 22:04 UTC

This week, the highly regarded public radio show This American Life learned a lesson that many journalists, including me, have learned the hard way: It’s almost impossible for an editor to fact-check a contributor who lies.

The show, hosted by Ira Glass, just retracted its Jan. 6, 2012, episode, “Mr. Daisey Goes to the Apple Factory,” adapted from Mike Daisey’s popular one-man show, The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, which is about working conditions in a Chinese factory that makes Apple products.

Daisey’s deceptions were uncovered by Rob Schmitz, a China-based reporter for Marketplace. This American Life will air an hourlong explanation and re-examination this weekend, featuring both Glass and Daisey, about the circumstances behind the retraction. Glass and the show are to be commended for their quick response, and everybody who cares about real journalism owes a debt of gratitude to Schmitz.

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